Saturday, January 26, 2013

Away for a while...

Hello all,

Although the posts have been coming fast and furious, tomorrow we will be heading out to spend a week at Aboriginal camp, and then we are all off to do independent research for a week.  It'll probably be a few weeks until our next post, so take your time reading the last three posts, and we'll share more when we're all back together in Brisbane!

-Julie Peterson, Program Assistant Leader

Never a dull moment in Sydney: The last leg of the first leg

By Rachit Malhotra

Greetings once again from the Australia group! If you are all caught up with our adventures in the land Down Under, you know we have been anything but docile. As I write this post, it is our last evening here in Sydney as a group. Tomorrow morning, we will depart by bus to an Aboriginal camp in Wollombi; let’s get you up to speed with the past few days.

We had a free day on Wednesday, with no planned group activities. However, we are all divided into neighborhood tour groups, which entails researching a cool local neighborhood and planning a walking tour with the whole group. Since my group, comprising me, India, Ashley and David, had to take the group out on Friday, we used this day to finalize and rehearse our tour of King’s Cross. We set out early morning (10 AM is early for a free day, right?) to the eclectic and bustling neighborhood of King’s Cross and didn’t have to look far to find a living reason for its sometimes zany and unconventional reputation. A man was screaming about the end of the world as he was walking backwards in the middle of the street towards an 18-wheeler truck that had the sense to stop in its tracks at the first sight of him. This was at the heart of King’s Cross. I include this anecdote so that it serves as a point of contrast with the Pott’s Point neighborhood. The Pott’s Point neighborhood is technically located in King’s Cross, but has persevered to separate its posh aura from the, er… less posh aura of King’s Cross. Pott’s Point is actually home to the most expensive apartment I have ever heard of. The picture below is that of a building where the penthouse recently sold for AUD $3.4 million.

I hope the owner knows he could have bought a house in downtown Manhattan, Mumbai, Sydney and perhaps the moon with this money.
We trudged on and walked past the naval base to a historically significant food cart, known to cater to the likes of Frank Sinatra, Russell Crowe and by Friday, Yueping Zhang. Known as Harry’s Café de Wheels, it serves meat pies, veggie pies, hot dogs and cold ginger ale.

This was one of those times in the program where I thought what the difference is between “All-American” and “All-Australian”. See the navy guys eating there behind the thumbs-up-giving India? Well, that is a picture that could have been taken as early as the 1930s and 40s. This has been an attraction for sailors, wild and partied out King’s Crossians and celebrities alike. It was certainly a must-visit for us. Having a pie floater, a classic, was a delectable and engaging treat. Never in the states have I seen a food cart with meat pies topped off with mashed potatoes, mashed peas and gravy. I suppose Rupert Murdoch hasn’t either. He has been known to fly out Harry’s pies all the way to the states for an Australia-themed party.
India giving the A-OK sign outside Harry's Cafe de Wheel's
Exhausted after eating, we concluded our relaxed run-through of the tour where we started, by the biggest billboard in the southern hemisphere. There’s three quarters of our neighborhood tour group pictured below. Not pictured here is a happy fourth member, (myself) who at this point was ready for a nap. 
The Coke Sign, just in case you missed it
Thursday promised a guest lecture on Australian literature.  His work with Aboriginal people in Australia and his role as a pioneer in including Aborginal culture in Australia’s school curriculum was inspiring. His work with the preservers of an important Aboriginal site was profoundly important and significant. We left that day in class with a renewed sense of vigor and fervor about the meaning of education; our own and for others.

I was equally excited for Friday’s lecture with our guest professor about Australian media. We spent the morning talking about the Australian film industry and what it really means to be an Australian film. Sure enough, if there were a simple answer, it wouldn’t quite be an hour long discussion where we argue about classifying films such as Finding Nemo and Australia (Yes, even the film Australia is slightly disputed in this sense, considering the Hollywoodization of the whole tale). I came out learning a new term that helped me define Australian film. “Social realism” is a good way to define Australian cinema, because it is defined by relatively dramatized dialogue, characterization and music, but the social message is intact through all of this. See if you can apply this to a movie you consider Australian, or one that you think can be considered Australian.

Later on that day, we were given an utter treat by GED, through Nat. She took us all out to the Sydney Theatre to watch a play about the first contact between a fully pardoned Australian convict and the indigenous people. Originally a novel, the play was called by the same name: The Secret River.  It was gut-wrenching, heartwarming, human, inhuman, hilarious, thoughtful, thoughtless and completely engaging. It was a rollercoaster ride, despite being aware of the history. If you are an avid reader, I suggest you check out the book. Below is a still I managed to capture of the cast after the show.

Always heartwarming to see the characters all become friends at the end of the play.  I wish they did that in movies.
After the play, we ran into the lead actor who played the convict. He asked us if we were American and when the group said yes, replied, “Oh, great. Because Canadians mind if you call them Americans.” Funny thing is that he wasn’t the first one to say that to us.

It was a stimulating experience to watch that play. Nat told me that it was lovely to see a full house and how it’s a shame that not enough people recognize this part of history. In fact, when she was in junior school (elementary and middle school, which was not very long ago), the history of Australia started on January 26th 1788. This is when the first fleet of English convicts came over to Australia in boats. This is the kind of ignorance that people like Nat and many of our lecturers are fighting so actively against. They are true educators and I am certain no one on the program disagrees with me when I express my gratitude to be here learning from them.

Today is Saturday, January 26th, Australia Day, Invasion Day, Celebration Day, Mourning Day, Confusion Day. It is a lot of different things depending on your perspective, but most importantly, I think this is becoming a day when people start recognizing the land belonged to someone else before 1788 and there was a lot of strife that came with this day. It is a significant day and I hope it is a day that will bring unity someday, rather than segregation. People are out and about with Australian flags on their shoulders, people walking around with 24 packs (called cases) of VB (Victoria Bitter beer). I am looking forward to going out tonight with the group and experiencing a significant day in the ever-changing life of Australia. I am hoping that this experience, along with the trip to the Aboriginal camp tomorrow, will chisel my perspective into one that is fair and balanced (I wish Fox News never tainted this phrase, because I mean it.)

So, here’s to Australia, here’s me signing off and handing the baton on to the next person to guide you through our life in this truly unique continent. I thank you for making it this far and letting me be your guide. See you in March, when I write my second post!  

Art and Artifacts

By Coby Moss

Hello mates!

            It’s our third week in Australia and I must say it has been a blast! Thankfully the weather has been a bit more merciful this week than last Friday when the temperature came out to be 46.5C, which is 115.6F! Don’t worry though, we went to one of our favorite locations in Sydney to cool off - the beach! Nonetheless, all is well, and we are all enjoying this beautiful, warm and sunny weather.

            Our week started off early Monday morning. A good portion of us realized that we haven’t acknowledged our roots to our homeland in a little while. Therefore, we knew that there was only one thing to do: sit down and watch some American football. Unfortunately, due to the time difference, our beloved Sunday game was broadcasted at 8:00am that morning. We didn’t mind though, it was good starting off the day with Niners victory. After the game, we got on a bus to visit the Indigenous Australia exhibition at the Australian Museum. The museum is the oldest of its kind in Australia and is located just a couple blocks away from the Hyde Park Barracks.

            Walking into the building was an experience unto itself. The first thing you notice isn’t the marble interior, but a giant skeleton of a whale that is just a few feet above you. After waiting a few minutes to collect our tickets, we were finally able to enter into the exhibit. As you enter, you can’t help but be amazed. The room is filled with a plethora of historical information about the indigenous people of Australia. From artifacts to audio stories and videos, we were able to learn about the tools, legends, myths, and weapons that were passed down from generation to generation. I had no idea about the various kinds of boomerangs that were used and how each one had a specific purpose (hunting, ceremonies, or warfare). The exhibit then led us into another room containing the Menagerie Exhibition. The room was filled with fascinating and vibrant indigenous Australian artwork inspired by the native animals of this land. My favorite work was the three ceramic kangaroos that resembled the “say no evil, see no evil, and hear no evil” monkeys.
Different versions of the Dreaming
Photo by Kyla Covey
Das kangaroos
Photo by Kyla Covey
            After looking through the exhibit on the first floor, a staircase led us to the Indigenous Animals of Australia exhibit. This gave us a deeper insight on the fauna that spans the continent. Once reaching the top of the staircase, there is a stuffed salt-water crocodile which was at least 4 meters long, an impressive sight.  What was more impressive is the fact that these animals can reach up to 7 meters in length! The exhibit itself was broken into four different sections: marine animals, fauna found in urban areas, fauna found in the outback, and finally prehistoric Australia.

             The marine animal section presented a variety of marine animals found along the Australian coastline (particularly focusing on the Northern, Eastern, and Southern coasts). Of course, the animals that caught my attention the most were the venomous ones. This exhibit reminded me of how careful you need to be out in the water. In particular I learned 5 important things: 1) always check if there are signs on the beach that signify what lives in the water, 2) do not pick up shells on the beach or in the water, 3) if you see vibrant blue rings (like the color on your Facetime app on your Mac) in shallow waters move away ASAP, 4) be extremely cautious around coral (may turn out to be a camouflaged fish), 5) and finally don’t swim in the water around Brisbane during summer. Basically this is how to avoid contact with: cone shells, blue-ringed octopus, tiger fish, and of course, the box jelly fish.

One of the many venomous creatures of Australia...
Photo courtesy of 
            The sections presenting fauna found in urban areas and in the outback were quite surprising. There was a wide display of the amphibians, birds, bugs, marsupials, reptiles, and snakes which are found both in our back yard and just outside Sydney. My favorite animal of this section was a mannequin of the Tasmanian Tiger. Sadly, the tiger has been extinct for quite some time, but seeing an example of what one would look like up close was definitely an experience.
The Tasmanian Tiger--no it's not a cat
Photo courtesy of
            The last section of the exhibit was of prehistoric Australia. By far the most out spoken dinosaur to have existed in Australia was the Rapator. This creature is said to have lived 113 to 97 million years ago. It is believed to have been a bird-like carnivorous dinosaur that basically looks like a velociraptor but with feathers. It is speculated that they would grow to be around 3.8 meters tall, 8 meters in length, and would weigh about 1 ton.

            After our tour of the Australian Museum, we all headed over to our next stop, which was the New South Wales Art Gallery. Once we all arrived, we met with our guide for the gallery on Non-indigenous Australian art beginning with the early colonial times.  He first began by taking us outside of the building to explain about the building itself. In his talk, he spoke about how the New South Wales Art Gallery is one of the most prominent galleries in all of Australia. It was established in 1874 as a project towards collecting important paintings and pieces from this region of world. Afterwards he brought us back inside to begin the tour.

One of John Glovers' paintings of Australia
Photo courtesy of
            The first artist we learned about was John Glover. While he wasn’t “Australian,” being born in England, Glover is held as one of the most famous artists in Australian history. His paintings, which were clearly inspired by the Romantic period, contain an aesthetic beauty that is very unique. His paintings are also important as they depict the early settlement in Australia and express the emotions and feelings that these earlier explorers felt. This is most notable in his painting of indigenous people, which unfortunately demonstrates the state of mind that earlier settlers had in viewing them as ‘alien’ figures.

            Next, we learned about Eugene Von Guerard, yet another Romantic-inspired painter. Von Guerard’s focus was on the landscape of the Australian bush. His scientific observations of the land allowed him to create paintings that display the overall magnitude of the landscape that early settlers had to overcome.

            Our tour guide went on by showing us multiple Australian artists from the mid-to-late 1800s. The most distinct aspect about these artists is that they were heavily influenced by the impressionist painters in Europe. In particular, paintings during this time resembled those of French painters such as Claude Monet. For instance, the paintings of city life in Australia looked very similar to impressionist paintings of Paris and London.

            Our final bit of the tour ended with the early 1900s. During this period, there was a boom in the Australian economy. As a result, paintings of this time clearly depict the economic growth of the nation and resulting immense pride in the people. An Australian artist named Tom Roberts demonstrated this pride of industry and westernized Australia by displaying a unique strength within people who live in this continent. In particular, his painting “The Golden Fleece,” depicts one of Australia’s strongest industries of the time, herding and sheep shearing. The painting not only illustrates the struggle of the citizens of Australia but also a sense of superiority.

Tom Roberts' painting, "The Golden Fleece"
Photo courtesy of
            Our final exhibition of the day was the Yiribana Gallery. This gallery contained some of the most beautiful aboriginal art pieces I have ever seen. Unfortunately, out of respect for these peoples, I am unable to go into great detail about particular pieces. It was mentioned that one has to ask for their permission in order to talk about these particular pieces. I will go on by saying that the gallery was very moving. The techniques used for some of the paintings were spectacular. For instance, the use of vibrant colors and dimensions of the canvas were amazing. I would definitely recommend looking this up on the internet!

Friday, January 25, 2013

Adventures of the Week

Brought to you by David Mayberry

Hello, dear reader, and let me spin you a tale. This tale covers the continued adventures of our overseas program after we returned to Sydney after the Blue Mountains. While I would like to describe my own personal adventures in Sydney, I’m afraid that I don’t adventure much at all. I can describe a lovely group adventure, but first, the day before that. We arrived back from the Blue Mountains on a Monday, a lovely day to get back as we didn’t have to restart our classes for the week on that day. Everyone has disliked Monday at least once in their lives, so it was good that we didn’t have lectures then. Thus, it was up to Tuesday to start off the week, and it did, so good job Tuesday, well done. You gave us a lecture on Australia’s multiculturalism and milieu where we learned various statistics about the population, such as females outnumbering and outliving males, women being paid less than men, 1.9 children per family which makes me wonder where the other 0.1 went, and that in the top 10 lists for music and movies, there was only 1 Australian entry for each list, illustrating Australia’s lack of cultural identity, and the influence of American culture.
            We later went on a tour of The Rocks area in Sydney, led by an Aboriginal tour guide who took the time to point out how green and lush the area was and the various uses of the plants. One of our last stops of the tour was a stop in a museum where we got to look over and hold some aboriginal tools and weapons, like woven fishing baskets, spears, and carrying devices called coolamons, which are used for a huge variety of purposes. After the tour, a number of us decided to walk over the harbor bridge. Not a bridge climb mind you, that was much too expensive, but just normal walking to check out the other side. On the walk we saw lovely views of the opera house, along with a man hanging out by an outdoor pool on a rooftop. Nothing quite like an outdoor pool next to a harbor, eh? On the other side, before checking things out we spent a good time lying on the lawn of a park. While not productive, I think it was all around a much more enjoyable experience than anything else we could have done. The park where we were hanging out was very popular and there were a number of people picnicking and enjoying the sun much as we were.  After eating a bit of dinner we were on our way back home to sleep, in beds rather than on grass.
The Sydney Harbor Bridge.  Now with barbed wire on the walkways!
The Museum of Contemporary Art.  We didn't actually go to it, but this is a wonderful poster.       
The next day was a free day. Being a free day, I was going to spend it in my room doing nothing, but much to my joy and relief I caught wind of plans to go to Manly, a beach town area place near Sydney. After taking the ferry there, we walked across the sidewalk to the beach. I took a few seconds to take off my shoes, and by the time I was done the group had gone ahead without me and vanished into the ether. After expressing my amazement at the sheer efficiency they had just displayed, I started heading down the beach attempting to find them. The beach was separated into no swimming areas and swimming allowed sections, so my search area was thankfully reduced. Even so, I managed to walk to one end of the beach and not find them, so I went all the way back the other way and still didn’t find them. It was only by sheer dumb luck that the area I chose to sit and rest and mope was where some of the group was at. Upon being reunited with the group, I learned that the ones who had gone in the water had itchy red marks on them that may or may not have been sea lice (I looked them up afterwards and can confirm that sea lice are apparently a real thing). When one thinks about it, my losing the entire group kept me from getting bitten by sea lice, so it turned out to be a good thing in the end. Funny how the world works.
            On Thursday, we were lectured on aboriginal storytelling, and learned about the complicated family dynamics of aboriginal communities.  With Thursday done, let’s talk about Friday. We started the day happy that we would get to start class at 9:30 rather than 9 like we normally do. Except instead we were brought to class early and informed that the neighborhood tour scheduled for Saturday was cancelled. After that tragedy, we had a lecture on the impact of European occupation of Australia on Aboriginal Australians. We were taught about the stolen generation and how they were kidnapped from their families and the negative issues that resulted from such actions. After hearing the negative effects of Europeans, we watched a funny satire that gave us the answer to the question of “what if the Aboriginals had colonized a white man area instead of the other way around?” The result is Barbakiueria (sound it out), a film that gives us a perspective on the racism present in history while being really funny just because of how absurd the premise is portrayed. We then countered that bit of humor by watching a talk show segment where an audience of Aboriginals discussed their experiences trying to obtain certification of their aboriginality while also talking about the meaning of what it is to be an Aboriginal and what defines it. It gave me hope that maybe in several years’ time, maybe not even during my time on this Earth, everyone will get everything back on track and years of racism, atrocities, negative behavior, and all around bad stuff done by the human race all the time will finally be settled. I can only hope that one day things will actually be positive for the world, and I hope you’ll agree that this would be a good thing. With the week done, my time with you is over, dear readers, but you might see me again. Until such time, may your adventures be exciting, your days be merry, and may you always remember today’s important life lesson:

“Sometimes life sucks. Keep in mind that life will trend towards being better in the long run, so don’t let bad things keep you down and enjoy what good things there are. Also, kindness is great, so have more of it. Seriously.”

With that said, as some people (though not as many as movies and pop culture would suggest) say down here, G’day.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Australian Bluegrass

By Justin Eubanks

G’day from the sunny land of Australia! After returning from our adventures in the Blue Mountains I decided it was time to start buckling down and getting ahead on my musical research project, which involves doing what I love most: meeting friendly people, seeing music, and playing music with my newfound Australian friends. In between morning lectures and our afternoon excursions, the past week has been a whirlwind of music, new friends, and jam sessions extending into the wee hours of the morning. To start my research project I got in touch last week with various musicians and music lovers through the Sydney Traditional & Old-Time Music Society, and they’ve welcomed me with open arms. The Society has been around for about thirty years, and is comprised of a very tight knit group of musicians and fans in Sydney who all perform with each other, host jam sessions, and support all the different types of bluegrass and old-time music that comes through town. On Tuesday night I met up with Jenny Shimmin, a wonderful woman who has been a thirty-year fixture in the Sydney bluegrass scene and one of the best banjo players I’ve had a chance to play with. After getting to know each other a bit and chatting about music at some length and the instruments we play we realized that we have both been struggling to learn the art of fiddling, which is no easy task to pick up. After a wonderful home-cooked meal we decided to bust out our fiddles and show off our skills (or lack thereof). After hammering away on some screechy fiddle tunes for a bit we decided to switch to our primary instruments and delve into the world of Australian bluegrass. I was instantly blown away by her playing and her level of musicianship and dedication to the banjo. It’s certainly not something you see every day, and the last thing I expected in Sydney was to find a sixty year old woman who is a world-class banjo player who has brushed shoulders and jammed with some of the greatest banjo players of the past century. Jenny invited me to come to one of her gigs two nights later, at a pub called the Green Room in a neighborhood called Enmore. It was just a few kilometers from where our Lewis & Clark group is staying but I hadn’t gotten a chance to check it out yet so I got there early and explored the neighborhood a little bit.  It was very refreshing to find a part of Sydney that wasn’t full of tourist shops and endless Chinese food restaurants. Her band, Oh WIllie Dear, is comprised of Jenny on banjo, Anna on fiddle  who recently moved back to Sydney from London, and two guitar players and singers both named Daniel. I was very impressed by their extensive repertoire of classic American bluegrass songs as well as their soulful, heartfelt original tunes, and it was clear that there is a very high level of musicianship for all the members, with each of them setting a high standard for themselves and each other.  After their set was over Jenny introduced me to some of their friends, an eclectic and delightful group of people. I met the main coordinator of the Sydney Bluegrass Society and she invited me to join them on Saturday to the Illawarra Folk Festival, located in Wollongong about 80 kilometers south of Sydney. I had no idea just what an adventure lay in store.
The soothing sounds of Oh Willie Dear
Photo by Jennifer Allyson
The festival organized a train specifically for musicians to play on the two-hour train ride south, so Saturday morning I caught the bus downtown with my fiddle and mandolin and hopped on board the music train. I ended up staying in the bluegrass train and we played for most of the train ride, with different musicians coming in and out from the other cars. The bluegrass was perfect train riding music, and there was a very captive audience of non-musicians on the train as well. We had about six or seven people playing for most of the train ride, including a full upright bass in the aisle. Before arriving at Wollongong I decided to explore the other cars and see what other jam sessions were going on. One car had more folky singer-songwriter types playing, another featured gypsy jazz with several accordion players, and another car also had bluegrass circle.
Our official train greeters
A few of the many musicians performing on the train
After arriving at Wollongong I decided to explore the town a little bit before heading to the festival grounds at the local racing track. It is truly a beautiful little seaside town, peppered with small antique shops and cafes along the main street and flanked by lush forests and hills to the east. I arrived at the festival expecting to pay $70 for a day pass, quite the strain on my student budget (hello rice and beans for the next month) but fortunately one of the organizers recognized me from playing on the train and gave me a discounted volunteer pass which I was incredibly thankful for. It’s really wonderful how playing music and meeting people in a musical community can really open doors, especially in a new place. If I hadn’t already, I quickly realized that Australians love their music and are incredibly welcoming and supportive of young musicians. It was still before noon and most of the acts across the six different stages hadn’t started yet, so I met up with Jenny and her bandmates and we quickly got a jam session going, where one person would call out a tune (usually a bluegrass standard that people are expected to know) and everybody sings and passes around solos, or takes turns playing the melody (this is popular for fiddle tunes that people arrange for the different instruments, so each instrument takes a turn playing the fiddle line while the other instruments provide rhythm). After jamming for a while and meeting heaps of musicians (including one banjo player with his six year old son who is learning to play and learning to jam-absolutely adorable) I decided to go and explore the different artists at the various stages and tents.
Melbourne-based band the Ruby Roots
Photo by Tim Dickinson
"Campbell the Swaggy," an Aboriginal storyteller regaling audiences
Mustered Courage--Young bluegrass picking sensations hailing from Melbourne

I was blown away by the range of music I got to experience, the first group I saw was called The Volatinsky Trio, and they played a beautiful mix of classical music and Russian compositions, lead by a beautiful hammered dulcimer player from Belarus. Over the course of the day I got to experience music from all over the world including a Latin fusion band, a South American drum ensemble, a cajun zydeco band, several bluegrass and country bands, several solo singer-songwriter acts, a polka accordion ensemble with the most accordions I’ve ever seen in one place, Eastern European gypsy jazz, and countless more acts that I couldn’t even categorize. In between sets I would go back to the instrument lock up and grab my mandolin and find different groups of musicians to play with and met even more wonderful people and fantastic musicians over the course of the day. Towards the end of the night a woman approached me and asked if I wanted to join her and her band for a set on stage in one of the tents and I agreed. Their set was at ten PM, and when it came time to meet up with them I couldn’t find them anywhere and couldn’t remember the name of the stage they were playing at. Right as they were about to go on stage I discovered them at one of the far corners of the festival grounds, and hopped on stage in the nick of time. We played a completely unrehearsed set of a couple jazz standards, a few rock covers and a couple folk standards, and for all the spontaneity it went over very well. After our set I met back up with the group I rode on the train with and we headed back to the train station to catch the last train back to Sydney. Luckily we got there in time or we would have been stranded for the night. The train was comprised of a mix of people returning to the festival and others who were a little taken aback to find their car suddenly overrun with musicians. Somebody produced a bottle of wine and the instruments came out of their cases and we entertained the other passengers all the way back to Central Station in Sydney. Nobody wanted the night to end so we caught a cab over to somebody’s house and continued playing music and singing until four in the morning or so when we finally decided to throw in the towel. The members of Oh WIllie Dear asked me to perform with them Sunday night for a gig over in the King’s Cross area of Sydney, and the weekend ended with a great performance at the Old Fitzroy Irish Pub, followed by another jam session lasting late into the night once again. This has been one of the most fun and most memorable weekends I’ve had, and my advice to anyone visiting Australia is to bring an instrument, and you will not be disappointed by the opportunities that provide themselves and the people that you meet. In this one weekend alone I made so many new friends and was able to meet and play with many incredibly talented and inspiring musicians.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Wait... Is it poisonous?

By Jasper Dean

Our weekend adventure began with our first actual taste of Aboriginal culture, pun intended. A short walk from our humble abode sits Gardener’s Lodge, an endearing breakfast-lunch cafe dedicated to re-creating Aboriginal dishes, with a modern flair.  The joint is run by a hush-toned, yet talkative, Aboriginal elder. Her passions appear to be in the right place: the connection between her people and their native land, and the café’s use of original ingredients and techniques. Though surrounded by a handful of other seasoned professionals, she commands an air of respect around, and away from, her café. Breakfast was served sampler style, and consisted of a pair of dishes: wattle seed pancakes served with syrup and berries from the bush, and a corn-based fritter topped with what avocado, and filled with a savory sauce.
Brekkie, Aboriginal style
Bellies filled and culture meters looking healthy, we piled onto the bus for the first leg of the trip. I should note now that, having spent most of my time on the bus curled up and passed out, we may as well have driven through a magic closet to arrive at our destinations, and I wouldn’t know any better. Lo and behold, I awoke to delicate botanical gardens mixed in amongst what appeared to be vast untouched fields of natural Australian land. (I would later be informed they call this place Mount Annan).  While there, we learned about the ‘stolen generations.’  This era of Aboriginal children, as we would learn, is so-called due to the effects of the Aboriginal Protection Acts, in effect from the late 1800s until the mid 1950s (and sometimes even longer), which allowed the Aboriginal Protection Board to seize children from their families without having to establish any justifiable legal cause. Our guide’s work to proliferate awareness on that subject, (as well as others concerning social and environmental matters about Australia) qualified him as a knowledgeable guide for our ravenous minds. He led us down a short but emotionally heavy path into the bush on a sort of memorial walk dedicated to the stolen generations. Plaques inscribed with quotes describing the difficulty of the experience and its’ traumatic after-effects lined the path. This divulgence from historical records and statistics gave tangibility to the situation people still alive today had undergone. The walk culminated in a rock carving of an Aboriginal mother and father with their child.  The stepping-stones leading away from- and to- the carving had the footprints of the child being taken away and returning to their community as an adult, respectively. A niche had been carved into the upper portion of the rock, in which sat a small wooden bowl.
Memorial statue for the stolen generations
 As our guide described to us, there was an annual ceremony in which Aboriginals would come to take a bowl full of water from the nearby creek, and from its original perch, pour the water down the face of the statue, symbolizing the tears of the family.

The entirety of Mount Annan serves as a sprawling junction for environmental preservation and research, and the botanical garden, its trophy room. Pristine from clearly immaculate care, different native Australian plants with ancestry as far back as the dinosaur era line the paths.

A section of the botanical gardens 
We learned about a tree with poisonous seeds that used to be eaten by Aboriginal people. Thorough cooking and preparation led them to believe any toxins had been killed off, but later research connected large numbers of Parkinson’s disease cases with long term ingesting of the seed, and the younger generation fortunately dropped the dish cold turkey. Another fact pointed out was that flowers in Australia tend to be much smaller than ones Americans are used to. This is a result of unpredictable and often harsh weather stretches endured over millions of years by Australian plants, which adapted to exist more frugally. This pattern continues across most every breed of plant still thriving in Australia, and would become an oft-cited theme of the weekend.
Being the Americans we are, walking around leisurely and staring at plant life had left us all hungry again, so it was a good thing we brought our sandw-ohwaitnope. We were never in true danger though, as our great leader and savior Yuuuuuueping the Courageous bought us all hot chips (ie. freedom fries).
Another bus ride magically transported us to Scenic World. The name is undoubtedly cheesy, but they really weren’t joking. Stepping out onto the platform, the scenery quickly falls away into a vast rainforest, snaking through a gigantic valley, finally out of sight. The entire valley is hugged by towering cliff faces. The entire layout allows the human eye to see, uninterrupted, for 70 km. The sensation of looking over the ledge for the first time is akin to watching a movie filmed from a helicopter flying over a cliff, when suddenly, the chopper finally clears the edge and close up turns into panoramic scenery, and though the speed of the helicopter never changes, time feels temporarily paralyzed.
I just wish I could fly
Scenic World is also home to the worlds’ steepest incline railway, measuring in at an Indiana-Jones-esque 52 degrees. Those hoping for an action-packed, death-defying 8 seconds of breakneck speed would be sorely disappointed however, as the train car inches down the cliff face in a tempting fashion.
The world's steepest railcar, in all its rickety glory
After arriving at the bottom, Howard, our personal all-knowing of all things Australia guide, led us on a pair of successive hikes, explaining the different ecological importances of different ferns and trees, as well as some of the ancient history regarding the rock valley formation, and more recent history on attempts to mine in the area.

Ze gondola
Our short trek brought us to the base of a gondola, this one carrying us up and over a section of the valley, offering a final breathtaking view.
Mira the Silent and Yueping the Courageous
View from the gondola
But the excitement was not over yet! What should have been a simple Ashley-acquisition from the train station turned into an escapist fiasco. Julie had rendez-voused with Ashley earlier to finally bring her into the program, but at the meeting location, our two heroines couldn’t quite reach the train doors in time. Fearing they may be gone forever, we got them at the next station, and all was well.
With the group at full force, we finally headed for our lodging for the weekend in Blackheath. Located somewhat remotely out in the Blue Mountain area, our accommodations were a deluxe restaurant and resort, all connected in a sort of tree-branch fashion. The accommodations were nice upon arrival, but we didn’t really comprehend how good we had it until we sat down to dinner. Cloth napkins, real glasses, wine for the table, elegant food…the whole nine yards. 
The fabulously named Jemby Rinjah resort
Arriving at Jenolan Caves
The next day’s activity was exploring the Jenolan Caves. Like most places in Australia, the Aboriginals had found and utilized the caves first, but in a more hands-off approach—in fact they feared the caves and stayed away. Dark, slippery, and dangerous, the cave was largely unaltered until the mid 1800’s rolled around, when the cave was first recorded by the Whalan brothers in search of a rogue horse thief. Over the following decades, crews have made the massive network of caves available to the public for tours, adding in pathways and powerful electric lighting. Scientists working on the caves have used potassium to argon ratios to date the cave at 340 million years old, making it the oldest known cave system in the world.
Batman?  You in there?
Walking through, the age becomes visibly tangible. The caves themselves are made of  limestone which is composed of decayed shellfish remains compacted over millions of years.  Stalagmites, which are made of deposits of calcium carbonate, and extend from the floor upward, supposedly grow at approximately 1cm for every 100 years. In the second room of the tour, we met Hercules, the single largest stalagmite in the caves. Standing in a room with about 40m from floor to ceiling, Hercules reached from the floor to about a 1/3 of the way up the room.    
The Roman demi-god himself
Aside from the aforementioned stalagmites and commonly known stalactites, a limestone formation called helictites exists in the Jenolan Caves. Instead of protruding from the floor or ceiling, these smaller structures extend from the cave walls, twisting and contorting seemingly randomly. Helictites, however, are largely a mystery to scientists. Over 20 significant theories have been presented as to how they form, but there is no singular accepted truth.

The mysterious helictites
Deeper into the network we came across a massive underground lake. Our guide informed us that professional divers had attempted to fully explore the depths of the lake, but somewhere around 90m down, had to give up. In the past, a small boat had given tourists a short ride to the other side of the walkway, but so many sank over the years that those in charge of the cave had given in and constructed a concrete path over the lake. Right as the project was being finished up, the concrete mixer had died. Instead of lugging it all the way back up to the surface to be thrown away, the mixer was given a proper burial and plaque, and affectionately named Bertha.
Continuing through the cave, our guide pointed out a handful of markings made by some of the cave’s first explorers, warning of unstable rock and other dangers.
Near the end of the cave, we came to a room beneath the legendary ‘cathedral,’ which has such incredible natural acoustics that groups have traveled from around the country and world to perform there. The room we were in was more recently outfitted with zeitgeist-y red and blue lights, highlighting a central ‘stage’ upon which the remains of a wombat were prominently displayed.

Disco room
Now, that actual wombat was taken from a local highway, but it illustrated the story of hundreds of animals who had, over the years, tumbled from the upper room, through the connecting tunnel, and fallen to their final demise in this room.

The entirety of our cave exploration took 3 hours. Afterward, we hiked down to a tiny little waterfall for lunch, narrowly avoiding death-by-snake on the way there. Not satisfied with only near-death, Justin ‘Adventure Man’ Gallen leaped tens of feet from the top of a rock face into the natural pool, much to Yueping’s chagrin. Needless to say, he still walks among us.

Adventure Man and his loyal subjects
Back at the lodge, dinner was equally as fancy, but the wait staff just had to out-do itself. One of the male waiters first serenaded us with multiple classics on the guitar, including an Elvis hit. Ever the performer, he then put on a juggling show, highlighted by a 4-ball-behind-the-back juggle, while on fire. Ok he wasn’t on fire, but the rest stands true.  Later that night, we watched The Edge, a documentary about the unique landscape and vegetation of the Blue Mountains, including a patch of Wollemi pines, trees from the age of the dinosaurs thought to be completely extinct, only recently discovered and studied.

For our final day in the Blue Mountains, Howard the Knowledgeable led us on a 4-hour expedition/hike through the massive valley of the Blue Mountains. The path had clearly been pioneered and fitted with implements for ease of use, but definitely had a nice unfinished element that made the hike still feel like a genuine trek through nature.

Plunging into the wilderness
Team Nature wassup
The path repeatedly snaked up and down the steep valley walls, a couple of times crisscrossing the stream that ran through it. With each significant altitude change, the forest literally shifted from wet to dry eucalyptus, and temperate to subtropical. Certain areas displayed aspects of central Australia, featuring dry, brownish plants and red-rock, while others were lush green, condensation seemingly dripping off every surface.
Um, ferns
At one point, Howard stopped the group to show us a small, pink flower that, when touched, triggered a ‘hammer’ petal that (ironically) delicately dabbed pollen on the back of whatever insect drank from it’s nectar. The entire hike continued the theme of Darwinian survival in the Australian wilderness. Australia is infamous for drastic swings in weather, inconsistent seasons, and natural extremes. Plants and animals still existing in this unique habitat are highly evolved, and tend to contain a number of unusual evolutionary features.

Back to our story, after stopping for lunch, we embarked on the final, and what we figured would be shortest, part of the journey. Ohhhhh how we were wrong…this final stretch took us from the valley floor to the very tippy top of the cliff faces. This last surge (and for some, very nearly last act on earth) ascended about 1,000 feet, more or less vertically. But man, was the view worth it. Locals have nicknamed it the Grand Canyon, which we laughed at earlier, but quickly bit our tongues as we looked over the edge of the cliff, all 40 km wide and 100+ km long of the valley. I’ve never wanted a squirrel suit so badly.

Pure awe
We bro-nquered the mountain
Parting shot of epic-ness
The hike was the exclamation point to an all-around exhausting but interactive and educational weekend. Compacting years’ worth of nature exploration into a weekend has a way of leaving you wanting so much more, but also lacking the willpower to lift a finger to say otherwise. Climbing on the bus one final time, we were bummed to leave, but only as long as we could stay awake. Magically, when we awoke fleeting moments later, we were home.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Wildlife Encounters

By Annabelle Mona

Hello family and friends! It is a lovely, sunny day in Sydney where I write from our rooftop veranda of good ol’ Arundel house. We just returned from our weekend excursion to the Blue Mountains, which is the closest wildlife preserve to the city containing some of the oldest geological history on the record. I think my favorite part of the excursion was the Jenolan caves. Extravagant crystal formations in the caves reminded the early explorers of the jewels from the orient so the caverns are aptly named Persia, Egypt, and India. It is believed that there are even more caverns of crystal under the rocks but we have yet to find them so I would suggest getting your caving gloves and headlamps on and coming down to Australia because you might get lucky bumbling down around the rocks here. Aside from that the canyons of the area are worth mentioning.  More on the Blue Mountain in the next blog post!

Photo courtesy of India Meyers
On Friday we visited Taronga zoo after our introduction to Australian biota. We had to take a ferry across the harbor so we got to see more of the stunning skylines of Sydney. Once we got to the other side we took a gondola ride to the top of the hill. We got to go to a backstage learning center where a zookeeper personally informed us about the nuances of Australian fauna.  We got to pet a sleepy nocturnal possum, a slimy green tree frog, and a friendly echidna among a few other animals. In case you’re not sure what an echidna is, it looks like a porcupine but smaller and with a longer snout.

Photo courtesy of
They are one of two monotremes (mammals that lay eggs) that are indigenous to Australia. The other monotreme is the notorious platypus. We didn’t get to see one of those in the wilds of the Blue Mountains but we did see one in the zoo. I was surprised to find it a bit smaller than I imagined.  We were also in a small enclosure with a few emus and a kangaroo. To say we got up close and personal with the animals might be an understatement.

A kangaroo gives Justin a kiss
Photo courtesy of India Meyers
Such a loving kangaroo
Photo courtesy of India Meyers
Our fearless leader Yueping encounters an emu
Photo courtesy of India Meyers
Today we did a guided tour of the Rocks area of Sydney, which is the site of the first British settlements in Australia. Our tour guide was of aboriginal descent himself and gave us a good idea of what the area was like before the Europeans sailed in. The land was lush and full of resources for the aboriginal people to use in various ways such as weaving clever nets for fishing, boomerangs for hunting, and paper bark canoes for travel. He also made sure we knew the place names for the points of interest, which have been changed. For instance, the site of the Sydney opera house is really Jabagali to the Cadigal aboriginal people.  It was certainly interesting to think about the land before its “discovery” by the Brits. The everyday plants around Sydney are not just there because they look nice but have a use and significance to the aboriginal people.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

The First Days Down Under

By Justin Gallen

G'day folks!

Welcome to the blog for Lewis & Clark's 2013 adventures in Australia!  To begin, I'll talk about the general scene down here so far.  As best as I can tell, Australia likes to do things differently.  While there are many similarities to America, the same popular music and many American foods and products, it doesn't do justice to simply compare Australia to America.  People seem to have a much more easy-going attitude down here.  While they all work very hard, they take plenty of time to go out and have fun all around Sydney.  There's always something going on downtown, every street you turn on has a pub or a restaurant, and the beaches to the east are always packed with swimmers.  While we're still getting used to our new schedule, I'm looking forward to getting into groove of Australian life.

I'll begin by giving you a quick rehash on our first few days Down Under.  After a seemingly endless flight in the dark, we touched down at the airport in Sydney just as the sun was rising (and yes it was that epic).  We went through customs and loaded up our bags onto a bus driven by the amazing Chris.  He gave us plenty of information about the city as we drove through the winding streets.

We finally stopped in front of Arundel House, our place of residence for the next few weeks.  The staff here is very friendly and accommodating.  They've provided us with breakfast each morning and a full kitchen to use for lunch and dinner.  After finding our rooms, we set out to get our first taste of life in Sydney.

We visited Glebe Point Road, a street with an eclectic collection of shops and restaurants similar to Hawthorne in Portland.  We kept walking, unsure of what we would find, until we came upon Darling Harbor.  This place was packed with families and tourists, all of them there to celebrate Sydney Festival, an annual arts and event that takes place in the summer.  We walked around a little bit more before heading home to make dinner.  The next day we would take a bus tour around the city.

The bus tour gave us a good idea of where we are.  We drove through the Central Business District and got to see Chinatown.  Not having a chance to stop, we decided we would go back for dinner that night.  We kept driving and finally got our first sight of Sydney Harbor at Circular Quay.  We then drove through The Rocks, a neighborhood of old stone buildings famous for its early colonial and convict history.  There is a pub there that is famous for being a place where they would “Shanghai” sailors—plying them with drinks until they were in a stupor and dragging them through underground tunnels back to the ships—in the old days, just like they did in Portland with the so-called Shanghai tunnels in Old Town.  We also learned how the base of the sandstone walls at Rocks were smoothed over in an attempt to keep rats (and people) from getting up into the richer parts of town during an outbreak of the plague.  Today, it is one of the most sought-after places to live in the city.  From here, we drove back to Circular Quay and got to see the iconic structures of the Harbor Bridge and the Opera House.  There are few buildings in the world that even compare to the beauty of the Opera House.  Between that and the old stone buildings in the Rocks, it is interesting to see how Sydney has done such a good job of growing while at the same time preserving its historic architecture.

Photo by Kyla Covey

We got back on the bus and drove to the eastern edge the Royal Botanical Gardens, where we stopped to look out from Mrs. Macqaurie’s Point onto one of the best views of the Harbor Bridge and Opera House to be found in Sydney.  We then went through the neighborhoods of Pott's Point, Woolloomooloo, and Kings Cross, the alleged "Red Light" district of Sydney.  We continued on through more neighborhoods, all consisting of winding little streets, old sandstone buildings, and hundreds of restaurants and shops.  We finally stopped and got out of the bus again at South Head.  Here, the Tasman Sea crashes into the base of two hundred foot tall cliffs.  We could see all up and down the coast as well as the entire city.
Our last stop before heading home was the world famous Bondi Beach.  This place was simply amazing.  We all ran out of the bus and jumped into the ocean to join the many thousands of tourists enjoying the iconic beach.  We would learn later that the waters were not entirely safe that day—there was a shark spotted near the beach.  To our luck, it was on the other side of the net that keeps sharks out.

Photo by Kyla Covey
When we were all done, we climbed back onto the bus and drove back to Arundel.  When dinnertime came around, we walked a short way back to Chinatown for dinner.
Our days so far have been much like this, with trips to Coogee Beach and other neighborhoods in the area.  Today, some of us went downtown to the Museum of Sydney, and a few of us plan on going to a cricket match (both of which I'm sure you'll hear about in later posts).  As best as we can tell so far, Australia's original and complex society offers new things to discover everyday.  And yet, we've only seen Sydney.  What follows will surely hold exciting adventures for us.

We've also begun our classroom sessions at the University of Sydney.  We've learned the basics on Australian geology and climate.  Today we learned the history of human evolution in Australia, which included a tour of the University's collection of early human remains. We also discussed the cultural diversity among Indigenous tribes.  So far, our classes have been a great resource, and I am looking forward to what we will learn in the near future.  We'll report back in a few short days.  Until then, take care!